Canine Stem Cell Transplants

Amy J. Wolff, DVM
from: November 2009 e-Newsletter

Stem cells transplants are now available as part of the therapeutic management for many canine diseases. First utilized in horses to treat joint injuries, the success of the treatment has now been expanded to include small animal companion patients. The need for stem cell therapy came from the theory that although there were treatments available to address the issues of pain and inflammation, but not the core issue of regenerating damaged tissues and thus achieve true healing.

In dogs the most common use of stem cell therapy has been for orthopedic conditions, and tendon and ligament injuries, but studies indicate that there are promising results in treating some medical conditions as well.

Stem cells are “blank slates”, cells that have the ability to differentiate into different types of tissue. They have the capability of becoming ligaments, tendons, muscle and nerve.
Stem cells are harvested by collecting fat tissue from the patient. The pet is anesthetized and under condition of strict sterility, a tablespoon or two of fat cells are collected and packaged for laboratory processing. The stem cells are harvested and concentrated, and shipped back to the clinic, often as soon as 48 hours later. The stem cells are then injected into the affected area. The stem cells can only be used in the donor patient, but a portion of them can be ‘banked’ should future treatments be required.

Response to stem cell therapy can vary among patients. Many pets feel relief for several months; others have experienced relief up to a year.

Candidates for stem cell transplant include patients that cannot tolerate the chronic administration of pain medication or anti-inflammatories, older animals unable to undergo the stress or risk of surgery, or have multiple joints affected.

Your veterinarian needs special training from the company that offers stem cell therapy. The company that receives and concentrates the stem cell samples is VET-STEM. They offer a course to familiarize the doctor with the procedure. For interested clients, there is an information sheet they can download from their website so the discussion of stem cell transplant can be opened with practitioners that are unfamiliar with the process.

Cost and effectiveness vary on a case by case basis. As with any approach in medicine, results are not guaranteed. Visit Vet Stem on the web at